Enhancing coping skills in vulnerable young people

Posted on: 14 June 2023 by Dr Ioannis Angelakis in June 2023 posts

The back of a child in a hooded top, looking out of a window

Dr Ioannis Angelakis is a Lecturer in Clinical Psychology in the Department of Primary Care and Mental Health. Here he discusses the research support grant he received from the Wellcome ISSF to co-produce an intervention aimed at reducing suicide in children and young people.

"I am very passionate about co-producing and evaluating low intensity interventions for individuals struggling with self-harm, suicidal behaviours, and mental health challenges. My research focuses on providing support, particularly to vulnerable young people whose unique needs may not always be adequately recognised and understood.


Young children and individuals are the most vulnerable population group when it comes to being at risk of suicide fatalities. There has been a notable increase in hospitalisations due to suicide attempts in the past decade, especially among young children and individuals up to 17 years of age. This particular age group has been identified as having the highest susceptibility to both experiencing thoughts of suicide and engaging in actual suicide attempts.

Suicide prevention

Emerging evidence suggests that enhancing problem-solving skills can be promising in preventing suicide-related behaviours, including suicide attempts and self-harm among young individuals. However, it is not known how beneficial these interventions are in helping children and young people facing exclusion from mainstream education, living in poverty, or with learning difficulties. Thus, there is a need for innovative and engaging interventions that focus on enhancing coping skills in this specific population.

Working together to develop an intervention

Thanks to the support and assistance provided by a Wellcome Trust ISSF award, I was able to put together a diverse group of individuals for a collaborative effort. This inclusive group consisted of young students who have experienced exclusion from mainstream education, their educators and teachers, as well as professionals in the mental health field, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and academics. Together, we worked towards the development of a low-intensity intervention, rooted in problem-solving theory, with the aim of preventing or reducing suicide-related behaviours, specifically tailored to address the unique needs of this vulnerable population.

I also reviewed existing research to identify relevant studies that investigated the efficacy of comparable interventions for youth at risk of suicide.

Next steps

Feedback and perspectives from young individuals who have encountered exclusion from mainstream educational settings has been essential in assessing the acceptability of the intervention. Their thoughts and opinions were needed to evaluate whether this intervention was appropriate or suitable. In particular, I asked the opinions of young people regarding what aspects they found favourable, their assessment of the intervention's user-friendliness, its perceived helpfulness, and their suggestions for potential modifications, additions, or omissions.

These preliminary actions mark only the beginning of my ongoing efforts to secure additional funding that will facilitate a comprehensive evaluation of the intervention's acceptability and feasibility in these particular settings. Moreover, I am committed to tailoring the intervention for other vulnerable populations and exploring novel strategies for digitalisation, to enhance its reach and accessibility to a broader spectrum of young individuals."